Attorneys at Cooney Conway Report: As is the case with many older buildings, prisons may contain some amount of asbestos, often found in walls or flooring. In Kansas, multiple correctional facilities have initiated asbestos abatement, or removal, programs in the past several years.
In one example, the abatement occurred after The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that an asbestos-contaminated prison facility in Topeka violated the Clean Air Act and Toxic Substances Control Act during renovation work. Specifically, prisoners and prison employees were involved in breaking down flooring at the facility, which may have contained asbestos.
It is not uncommon for inmates to perform work within prisons while they are incarcerated, which makes it important to take proper precautions to protect both prisoners and prison staff. Over the years, there have been cases in which prisoners have developed mesothelioma or lung cancer as a result of being exposed to asbestos while performing work in prison, or even from being exposed to crumbling asbestos in some areas of prisons.
Complaints surfaced citing that asbestos had been mishandled and disposed of in non-compliant, unsafe ways in the facility which accommodated 500 offenders and was staffed by 200-plus employees. In addition, asbestos inspections had not been made prior to renovation, which violates regulations set forth in the Clean Air Act. A notice of noncompliance was served on the corrections department after it failed to take these necessary precautions to minimize asbestos exposure.
The EPA found that further safety measures should have been followed, including equipping renovation workers with respiratory protective devices, providing adequate training on asbestos removal and handling in advance of the renovation, and overseeing the labor to ensure safety.
As a result of the EPA’s findings, outside contractors were hired by the Kansas Department of Corrections to examine more than half a dozen state prisons for asbestos before any additional renovations could take place. The goal was to ensure that any future work would follow the rules set forth in the Clean Air Act to protect people from the dangers of asbestos and mesothelioma causes
During this inspection, asbestos was found in areas including pipe insulation, ceiling materials, walls and floor tiles. Glue containing asbestos was even found on the floor of two inmate dormitory rooms. Asbestos was also found in various rooms in the prisons that were tested, from chaplains’ offices to libraries to staff lounges.